We have not had much of a winter here in Bangalore (I guess we can blame that on climatic change), but it is that time of the year when we want to go on those frozen river treks, skiing trips, scenic winter treks and enjoy the cold mountains. It is also my favorite time of the year to visit the Himalayas as the skies are so clear and the sunrises and sunsets are so surreal. It is also the low season in the mountains as the holidays are over and the temperatures are plummeting. Thus, you will find flights and hotels offering great deals. It is however, going to be cold and by that I mean really cold. But, that shouldn’t stop you from having a snow filled winter holiday. All you have to do is take care while packing for such a cold winter trip. Below are some winter packing essentials based on my personal experiences where I stayed in both hotels and tents in the open. If you have these items with you, I am pretty sure you can handle sub zero temperatures fairly comfortably.
Don’t bother with slippers, canvas shoes, running shoes or tennis shoes. You will be cold before you even know it and if your feet get cold, you are bound to fall ill. I would always carry a good pair of boots. Ideally, it should have a waterproof outer lining (like Goretex) and be well broken in. Depending on your activity, you can choose ankle length or high boots. If you are really planning to rough it out, only then opt for boots with a fleece lining. Else, go for regular boots. Extremely warm boots will make your feet sweat and that can lead to problems too. To know more about picking and choosing boots, look up my blog post on ‘how to choose those perfect backpacking boots’.
For me, a scarf (many of us call it muffler in India) is an absolute winter essential. You can use it as a neck warmer. You can use it to protect your ears. You can use it to protect your nose and mouth. And you can even use it to up the fashion quotient with some nice colorful ones. I prefer raw silk scarves for temperatures in the 0 to 10 degree Celsius range and woollen ones for sub zero temperatures.
Head gear is very important for winter holidays. Go for a woollen/fleece beanie for trips where you do not expect it to be too cold. And use a balaclava (something that covers your ears, nose and mouth) for places with cold winds and sub zero temperatures. A balaclava comes in super handy for any sort of outdoor stay.
Personally, I don’t like gloves. I find them extremely cumbersome to use. I can’t seem to use my camera with it. I can’s use the touch screen on my phone. And basically, I can’t feel anything or get a good grip without removing them and if I do remove my gloves, my hands get cold in rapid quick time. This is where, I prefer woollen mittens. On the outside, they look like gloves without those finger openings. With their reduced surface area, they reduce heat loss and keep us warmer. And, they also have a provision to access the top of your fingers to use it for any touch or grip based activity. You finish the activity and then go back to having fully covered fingers.
5) Inner Thermal Wear
It is very easy to lose your body warmth on cold winter days and nights and extremely time consuming to regain it. That is where inner thermal wears come in super handy. While, there are lots of new age fabrics available, I prefer traditional breathable fabrics like wool, which allow my body to breathe and does not allow my body sweat to stay on my body. And then, we can follow the traditional method of layering to trap the air and keep us warm.
6) Waterproof Down Jacket
Like a good pair of boots, a good waterproof down (down refers to goose feathers) jacket is a must-have for winter holidays. It becomes a no-brainer for skiing holidays, for outdoor adventures, for wind-chill and for extremely cold weather. And if you use a 800 down quality, you don’t need any layering and still can handle pretty low temperatures. Basically, an extremely lightweight, but expensive proposition.
7) 800 Down Sleeping Bag
You don’t need a sleeping bag if you are going to be sleeping in a cosy hotel room. But, you will definitely need one, if you plan on staying in tents, interested in multiday treks or if you want to stay in non-heated homes and hotels in remote places and villages. This will be an expensive investment. So take your time to pick and choose a good one. Go for one that fits your height, has a mummy like form and one that is lightweight and packs small.
8) Self heating Warmers
Ever experienced a hotel bed that feels like ice and one that continues to feel like that for hours together making you shiver in your sleep. Well, most of the hotels and home stays in India are not centrally heated. The external room-heaters only heat the space around it, but not the bed. That is where self heating warmers like Warmee come in super handy. All you have to do is tear a Warmee packet, shake it, put it in the bed along with you and drift to warm sleep in say 10 minutes. I always carry these with me when I am camping in the open. These self heating warmers are a must carry if you have elderly people or kids in your group as they are prone to get affected by the cold sooner.
It is usually very dry in winters and with so many layers of clothing, our body loses all its lubricating oils and if not taken care of, they turn into irritating rashes. A good quality moisturizer comes in super handy here. These could be our standard moisturizing lotions or creams, petroleum jelly, glycerine oils or any lubricating oil that works its magic for you. If you want it to be traveler friendly, carry a moisturizing cream that doesn’t freeze.
Winter holidays offer the opportunity to see magical white landscapes filled with snow. However, you will be squinting all the time if you don’t carry a good pair of sunglasses with you. The mountain sun and the reflection from the snow and ice makes the light extremely harsh. Hence, when you buy your sunglasses, make sure that they are polarized or category 4 if you are planning on skiing.
We seldom tend to shower on our winter trips. Either it is too cold or the water doesn’t stay warm till the end of your shower. In such a case, you don’t want to be smelly. Packing a deodorant is always a smart choice. Don’t bother with those aerosol cans as they can get bitterly cold in winters and can sometimes even crumple due to low temperatures and pressure. Rather, carry a good quality roll on deodorant.
12) First Aid Kit
Have you got hurt during winters? If you have, you will know that the pain is more agonizing due to the cold. Also, cold weather makes our digestion weaker. And if you are planning to go up into the higher reaches of the Himalayas, you might come across acute mountain sickness due to lack of greenery. Hence, it is always recommended to carry a good first aid kit. The following are must-haves in your winter first aid kit:
Probiotics: To ensure that your digestion doesn’t get affected due to the cold
Diamox or equivalent: To combat acute mountain sickness in case you get the symptoms
Pain balm: To relieve you of those muscle spams and niggles from your skiing or other adventure activity
13) Toilet Paper
This might come as a surprise to most of you, but one of the challenges during winter trips is cleaning yourself after you attend your business. Sub zero temperatures ensure that water freezes in all the pipelines. Outdoor campers are usually equipped to stay without water, but regular travelers take water for granted. It is for such travelers that I recommend that they carry toilet paper with them in case they plan on visiting places where water freezes. If you do not like using toilet paper, do make sure that you stay in a hotel that offers running hot water 24 hours a day.
As soon as you start your winter holiday, the first thing that you will realize is the chapping of your lips. If left unattended, it can cause a lot of pain, especially while consuming all those hot liquids that are meant to keep you warm. Chap sticks (lip balms) are a god-send for such situations. For very cold and dry weather, just chapsticks do not do the business. Hence, try and apply some ghee or butter to your lips while eating and drinking. This will help you a lot.